The Best Alcohol for Flambé (7 Most Popular Liquors)

SAFETY FIRST! Never pour alcohol into your pan directly from the bottle. Remove your pan from the heat before you add the alcohol. Do not walk around with a flaming pan. Do not flambé too close to your guests. Do not flambé when you’re under the influence. Always wear an apron when you flambé! Please be safe.

Your sauce is bubbling away in your stainless steel pan, indicating it’s hot enough to add your flambé fuel, but which alcohol should you choose? 

It all comes down to the alcohol by volume or ‘ABV’. You can flambé with any alcoholic beverage between 20% ABV (40 US Proof) and 60% ABV (120 US Proof). Use liquor in the 40-60% ABV (80 to 120 US Proof) range for the optimal effect. Drinks with this strength are usually brandies, whiskeys, rums, vodkas, and high ABV liqueurs.

Best alcohol for flambé

The best alcohol for flambé is anything around 40-80%ABV (80-120 Proof). The 7 most popular choices are:

  • Cognac
  • Rum
  • Bourbon
  • Whiskey
  • Cointreau
  • Grand Marnier
  • Amaretto

Your favourite liquor not on this list? Please keep reading for more info on using these for flambéing, as well as my thoughts on flambéing with many other types of alcohol.

What ABV/Proof to flambe?

The best strength alcohol for flambéing is around 40% ABV (80 proof). Beverages above 60% ABV (120 proof) are too flammable, and you should not use them for flambé fuel. Technically any liquor with 20% ABV (40 Proof) or above will ignite, but you will need to add more, and the results may not be as reliable.

How much alcohol do you use for flambé?

When the pan and its contents are hot, you can add the alcohol and it will quickly reach its flash point which is when it produces vapours that can be ignited. But how much alcohol do you add?

If you’re making a recipe that is flambéed in the pan, such as flambé bananas, you would add around 1/2 cup (125ml) of 40% ABV liquor, usually rum. If you’re using another strength, you can adjust the amount relative to the ABV. If you’re flambéing meat without much sauce, a shot or so is plenty.

If you’re flambéing a dessert that’s already cooked, such as baked alaska, you only need to add a couple of tablespoons of pre-heated liquor.

Can you flambé with beer?

Beers and lagers typically range from 2% to 12% ABV (4-24 Proof), making them too weak to ignite as a flambé fuel. 

If you find that disappointing, there is hope. Schorschbräu brewery in Germany created Schorschbock, a 43% ABV (86 Proof) beer that is the ideal strength for flambéing. Schorschbock isn’t the strongest beer in the world. The lunatics geniuses at Brewmeister have created ‘Snake Venom’, a 67.5% ABV (135 Proof) beer, but I think that’s a little too flammable to have anywhere near your kitchen.

You’ve heard of beer-battered fish, well why not order up some Schorschbock and try beer flambéed fish?

If you want to make a flambé dish with regular strength beer, you can always add beer to the recipe for flavour and flambé with another suitable type of alcohol.

Can you flambé with wine?

Flambéing requires liquor that is around 40% ABV (80 Proof). Red wine, white wine and champagne all have an alcohol content that ranges from about 5% ABV (10 Proof) to 16% ABV (32 Proof), too low to catch the pan on fire

Some flambé dishes include wine, but the flambé is done with a more potent drink such as brandy, and the wine is just added for flavour. A good example is pork flambé with wine sauce.

Can you flambé with fortified wine?

Fortified wines such as sherry, port, Marsala and vermouth have are wines that have a distilled spirit, such as brandy, added to them, which makes them great for flambéing. Choose a fortified wine that’s at least 20% ABV (40 Proof) and add 2-3 times more than you would when using a regular spirit.

Can you flambé with rum?

Rum is one of the most popular spirits for flambéing. Rum is typically around 40% ABV (80 Proof) which is the perfect flambé strength. Most chefs consider dark rum or spiced rum to be the best types of rum for flambé. Be careful with overproof rum. If it’s over 60% ABV (120 Proof), it’s too dangerous.

Can you flambé with brandy?

Brandy is a prevalent flambé fuel amongst chefs. At 35-60% ABV (70-120 Proof), its alcohol content is in the sweet spot for flambéing. Many chefs will only use Cognac for their flambé. Cognac is a type of brandy that has to be produced in a specific region of France using a particular method and grape and has at least 40% ABV (80 Proof).

Can you flambé with vodka?

Vodka is a spirit that is usually 40-60% ABV (80-120 Proof) which is an ideal strength for flambéing. Vodkas are available that go up to 95% ABV. Please do not attempt to flambé with anything over 60% ABV (120 Proof). That is too dangerous to be anywhere near a flame. 

If you want to try a flambé dish with vodka, I highly recommend ‘penne alla vodka‘. It’s fantastic to watch the vodka ignite as soon as it heats up, and more importantly, it’s delicious!

Can you flambé with whisky?

Scotch whisky has to be at least 40% ABV (80 Proof) by law, and some examples go up to 57.8% ABV (115.6 Proof). This ABV range will ignite easily, so scotch in the perfect strength range for flambéing. Most other types of whisky (Irish, Canadian, Japanese, etc.) are also in the ideal ABV range for flambéing. Just don’t use anything that is over 60% ABV (120 Proof).

Can you flambé with bourbon or Tennessee whiskey?

Both bourbons such as Jim Beam and Tennessee whiskeys such as Jack Daniels are around 40% ABV (80 Proof), making them ideal for flambé cooking. They work particularly well with meats, especially beef steak.

Can you flambé with sambuca?

Sambuca has to be at least 38% ABV (76 Proof), and most producers make it at 40-42% ABV (80-84 Proof), making it a good strength for flambéing. Sambuca works particularly well with shellfish; butter-poached lobster with sambuca flambé and sambuca shrimp are popular dishes.

Unlike a lot of the other drinks on this list, Sambuca will easily light at room temperature. Spirits are around 40% ethanol and almost 60% water. Sambuca, a liqueur, is more like 40% alcohol, 15% oil, 15% sugar and 30% water (at a guess). These additional flammable constituents mean it catches alight very quickly, and you should remove the pan from the heat before you add the Sambuca.

Can you flambé with tequila?

The official Mexican standard for tequila is 35-55% ABV (70-110 Proof), so it is in the optimal strength range for flambé. Tequila flambé works well with pan-fried seafood because the alcohol burns off, and the water evaporates, leaving the delicious tequila flavour and a light sear without the meat absorbing too much liquid.

Embrace the Mexican theme and impress your guests with tequila-flamed shrimp tostadas.

Can you flambé with gin?

Gin ranges from 37.5% ABV (75 Proof) to 58% ABV (116 Proof), the correct alcohol content for igniting a flambé. Gin is nowhere near as popular as the rum and brandy flambé go-tos. There are very few recipes that recommend flambéing with gin. The ‘unique’ flavour that gin leaves on flambéed food works best with fish fillets like salmon or bluefish.

Can you flambé with sake?

Sake typically contains an ABV of 18% to 20% (36 Proof to 40 Proof), which is a little bit weak to reliably flambé. However, if you’re cooking something without much liquid in a really hot pan like pan-seared shrimp, you could dump in a couple of shots or so of sake, and the alcohol will quickly evaporate out of the pan and combust if you put a flame near it.

A 46% ABV (92 Proof) ‘sake’ is available from Tamagawa brewery called ‘Echigo Samurai’, which will work wonderfully for flambéing. Unfortunately, Japanese law states that actual sake must be under 22% ABV (44 Proof), so you’ll be flambéing with Japanese liquor, not sake.

Can you flambé with amaretto?

Amaretto is usually between 21% ABV (42 Proof) and 28% ABV (56 Proof), depending on which brand you buy. Technically just about strong enough for flambé. It works well as a fuel for flambéing fruit, and the flavour it leaves is a good match with the sweetness. Amaretto is weaker than the usual flambé suspects brandy and rum, so you have to add more to the skillet if you want the dramatic flames.

Can you flambé with Cointreau?

Cointreau is 40% ABV (80 Proof) which is the perfect alcohol content for flambé. You will find Cointreau on most chefs’ lists of their best alcohol for flambé. Cointreau’s orange flavour makes it a popular choice for flambé deserts. You need to try a crème brûlée Cointreau flambé at least once in your life.

Can you flambé with Grand Marnier?

Grand Marnier is a 40% ABV (80 Proof) orange liqueur, a trendy choice for flambéing. It is an excellent strength for catching on fire for dramatic effect whilst depositing its trademark complex orange flavour onto the food. Chefs usually use it for flambé desserts, but I once had some delicious flambéed orange duck breast.